He was a farm boy from Tyrol in a family of eleven children. The auxiliary bishop of Augsburg recognized his talent and found him a position as a sculptor's apprentice. In 1791, he fled from the Hohe Karlsschule, a military academy in Stuttgart, to join the Jacobins in Strasbourg. After a brief stay there, he moved on to Basel, but was soon banished for his political activities. In 1794, he left for Italy and settled in Rome, where he met the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, among others. The two artists shared an apartment from 1800 until 1803.
After a three year stay in Vienna, he returned to the immortal city of Rome in 1815, where he felt freer than anywhere else. He became the focus of a large circle of artists and poets, and he was sought out by such figures as Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Karl Friedrich Schlegel during their travels. This artist, Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839), belonged to the circle of "German Romans" (Deutsch-Römer), the painters who moved to Italy around 1800 in search of a new religiosity and ideal subjects for their art. There, in this Arcadia rich with tradition, they could be closer to their honoured models: the Italian masters of the early Renaissance. In Rome, Koch became the main master of a landscape painting style with classical as well as romantic traits. His work reflects his deep religiosity, as well as his personal experiences of nature: he roamed again and again through the mountainous world of the Alps, the Mediterranen landscapes of Italy, Campania, and the Albanian and Sabine mountains. In Koch' striking fictional landscapes, nature appears immortal. Humanity seems to be safe within it, a part of a whole that is organised according to God's will. An excellent example for this aspect of Koch's work is the "Heroic Landscape with Rainbow" (1805). (It hangs in the Kunsthalle collection beside "Via Mala in Graubünden", 1804, and "The Hospice on the Grimsel Pass", 1813.)
The view presents a fabulous panorama. In the foreground, a shepherd is watching over his herd and making music. His two-person audience not only listens happily to his music, but also admires a splendid rainbow that spans wide across the landscape. Three people are boating on the wide river that stolidly crosses the fertile plain. In the light beyond the water, an imposing, classical cityscape rises. Behind it, dark mountains hulk up, gently sloping towards the sea at the left, where the sky has already cleared. The rainbow, which cuts through the grey blanket of clouds, not only signifies the end of the storm and better weather to come. It is also a Christian symbol for a bridge between the heavens and the earth, the relationship between God and mankind, the transition between this world and the world beyond. Koch's landscapes are consistently notable for their timelessness. His work displays neither the changes of lighting according to the time of day, nor the changes in nature according to the seasons. Instead, the artist compounds various individual aspects into an ideal unified image, joining parts together to create an auspiciously harmonic whole.